Also:       kiyamba      kiyamba      chikitsi      

Contextual Associations

The kayamba is a raft rattle idiophone from Tanzania but also used elsewhere in East Africa (Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe--in all these countries it is known by a variety of names). Amongst the Wagogo people of Tanzania it is part of an ensemble used to accompany the secular version of Muheme, a girl’s initiation ceremony. Elsewhere in East Africa it is used in traditional, neo-traditional, church, and popular music making. Women often, but not exclusively, perform these raft rattles.


This raft rattle contains seeds or small pebbles between two trays or rafts made from numerous lengths of cane tied together.  The two rafts are separated from one another by slats of wood that form the sidewalls of the instrument. The bark cloth trim seen in the gallery #2 image is most likely just for decoration.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The kayamba is held horizontally between the palms of both of the player’s hands so that one raft is facing upwards, the other down. In addition to sliding the rattle back and forth to produce the primary rhythmic articulations, in some areas players also tap their thumbs on the upward facing raft to produce further rhythmic complexity. Amongst some peoples in Kenya the rhythms produced on the kayamba double the vocal rhythms of the songs they are accompanying.


None of our sources speculated about the origins of this rattle, but its wide distribution throughout much of East Africa suggests that Swahili (the trade language of Eastern Africa) speaking people have contributed to its spread.

Bibliographic Citations

Barz, Gregory. 2010. “Soundscapes of Disaffection and Spirituality in Tanzanian Kwaya Music,” The World of Music 52/1/3: 204-228.

Ellert. H. 1984. The Material Culture of Zimbabwe. Harare: Longman Zimbabwe.

Gourlay, K. A. 1984.” Kayamba.” NGDMI v.2: 368.

Hyslop, Graham. 1958. ” African Musical Instruments in Kenya,” African Music 2/1: 31-36.

________. 1959. “More Kenya Musical Instruments,” African Music 2/2: 24-28.

Kavyu, Paul N. 1998. “Music in Kenya.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.1. ed. Ruth M. Stone. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 622-632.

Mapana, Kedmon. 2007. “Changes in Performance Styles: A Case Study of “Muheme”, a Musical Traditiona of the Wagogo of Domoda, Tanzania,” Journal of African Cultural Studies 19/1: 81-93.

Martin, Stephen H.  1998. “Music in Tanzania.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.1. ed. Ruth M. Stone. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 633-647.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: East Africa

Nation: United Republic of Tanzania

Formation: Wagogo

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

112.13 idiophone--vessel rattles: rattling objects enclosed in a vessel strike against each other or against the walls of the vessel, or usually against both

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: shaking

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: hollow boxlike vessel - closed

Sound objects per instrument: one

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - indirect

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - pellet/s, seed/s, bead/s inside closed vessel/s

Energy input motion by performer: shaking

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


13 in. length (gallery #1) 7.8 in. length (gallery #2)

Primary Materials

reed - cane



Entry Author

Roger Vetter